Urban Sketcher

Documenting urban life in Vancouver and beyond.

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Sketching a professional ballet class

Posted on Oct 31, 2013 in Vancouver | 1 comment

ballet animation

Dancing comes easy to me when I can do it on an iPad. The problem is, this animated gif doesn’t even remotely do justice to the grace of the dancers.

Ballet BC

Using the pen tool, Paper app on iPad.

Ballet BC

Pen tool.

Ballet BC

Brush tool.

Ballet BC

Brush tool.

I was able to arrange a pretty special outing for my sketchers: we were allowed to draw the professional dancers during a class and practice session of Ballet BC.

It was hard for me to choose something to focus on, but the dancers were great athletes and beautiful to look at. I thought about how most of us don’t maximize what our bodies can do, never mind our brains. These dancers were all muscle and no fat, all control, balance and grace. They have clearly both started with natural talent and the right genes, and then optimized that through years of training, as well as creative expression.

I had heard good things about Ballet BC under their new creative director for the last three years. I met two of the dancers, a boyfriend-girlfriend couple, through a good friend who studied ballet and had befriended them. After running into them and chatting with them at several social occasions over the last few years, I finally got to see these two dance at a Ballet BC performance two weeks ago, and was blown away.

I knew, even from just talking to them over the last couple of years, how all-consuming their passion for dance is, and now I was able to see how that passion comes through when they perform or even just practice. Unfortunately one of them is injured right now and he was not at the practice. I am getting a glimmer of how stressful that must be for this calibre of performing dancer.

I don’t attend ballet much, usually I get to go when Jeff or our friend, who each have a subscription, can’t make it, but I have already decided to join them more often.

And my sketchers were very happy.

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Jeff sings at the Chan Centre

Posted on Oct 27, 2013 in Vancouver | 2 comments

Concert at the Chan Centre at Ubc

Jeff moonlights as a tenor in the Vancouver Bach Choir and is just starting his third year with the choir. The fall/winter season is the choir’s busiest time, with regular practices plus rehearsals and performances. At least once a season I attend one of their concerts. Usually they perform at the Orpheum, so Jeff hadn’t sung at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts at UBC (University of British Columbia) before. It was a rare occasion and such a beautiful hall that I had to be there.

I brought a girlfriend, M., along and we made an evening out of it, first having dinner out, then being Jeff’s choir groupies, and after the performance he joined us for cheesecake in his tux and black tie (no spills!).

I drew the hall during the 1.5 hour concert. Even though it was not sold out, it still seemed like an overwhelming amount of heads to draw, so I really slacked off when it came to drawing in the people. I marked Jeff with an arrow near the top right of the drawing. So if you recognize him from this sketch on the street, say hi.

The choir has their annual standards, a Christmas concert and Handel’s Messiah, coming up in the next few weeks.

This concert was music by Haydn and Francis Poulenc (Poulenc is a French mid-20th Century composer that I’d never heard of before, but luckily for me, not atonal like Arnold Schönberg, but more like Erik Satie: pensive and melodic).

I enjoyed the music very much, after the samples I’ve been getting from Jeff’s singing practices that appear to be scheduled during his morning showers these days.

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Developing my creative process for copper etching

Posted on Oct 23, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Copper etching of landscape

This is NOT one of my etchings. It is one of many prints of landscape etchings that my parents have hanging around their place. I’ve grown up with these, but never really looked at them closely — although the thought occurs to me now that they must have seeped into my subconscious during my childhood and possibly triggered my latent urban sketching habit. Now that I’m etching myself, I’ve been taking a good look at my parents’ collection of etchings. Click on the image to see it close-up. This particular etching looks like drypoint to me (when you scratch directly into the copper, without treating the copperplate with what’s called “hard ground” first), especially in the dark foreground area where the lines get a bit fuzzy. And another sign of drypoint is the ability to get grey-toned lines by scratching into the place a bit more lightly. The grey lines create the atmospheric, receding effect in the background landscape.

Learning about the process of copper etching from Peter Braune at New Leaf Editions has been a revelation. I now have some favourite habits and tools. I have also found (despite Peter’s snarky comments) that my digital gadget addiction comes in handy, as I have been using some of the drawing apps on my iPad (mainly ProCreate, and to some extent Photoshop, Brushes and Paper) to create working sketches, then combining sketches and my own photographs of a scene in different layers, then reversing the whole image, and referring to it as I am drawing on the copper plate.

At first I thought we would somehow transfer my drawings to copper by some kind of scan-and-phototransfer process. That is technically possible, but Peter said I should etch. From scratch. (Getting artists to etch is one of Peter’s great accomplishments — he works with well-known, established Canadian artists like Gordon Smith, Attila Richard Lukacs, Angela Grossman, Derek Root, and First Nations artists like Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun and Tim Pitsiulak. Some of these famous artists pop by his studio and I am awe-struck. But I simply pretend that I belong there too.)

Then I assumed I was just going to do some very finished drawings in my sketchbook, the way I normally do them, and “copy” them over to the copperplate manually. But as soon as I started etching, I figured out that this method was neither interesting (for obvious reasons) nor practical (since etching on a copper plate with a sharp tool is a completely different medium than drawing on paper with an ink pen).

So I developed a process that works for me. I plan to show a concrete example of these stages in a couple of months when this etching project is done:

1. I do quick sketches on location to develop a composition based on what my eye sees, not my camera, and also take reference photographs which help me fill in detail later.

2. I spend some quality time on my iPad, combining sketches and photos with the help of layers and opacity, usually in ProCreate, to get a bit closer to a draft. Then I reverse the whole image, since anything you draw on copper will be printed in reverse at the end. I want the scenes of Vancouver to be recognizable so my etching has to be the mirror image. It’s surprisingly difficult to remember that; I’ve had to start a couple of etchings over.

3. Then I go to the copper plate with just enough fear of screwing things up to make it exciting. Here I continue to tweak the composition to make it more dramatic, and then add detail from several different photos, referring to the draft on my iPad.

During the etching process itself, there are many different techniques, tools, and proofing stages for creating effects or making corrections. I won’t go into those now. But in the creative stage, I love having both digital and traditional tools at my disposal. And the best thing is, I am not copying, the art develops right on the copper plate as I’m etching it, so that is the only place where the drawing exists.

negroni drink

You can learn almost anything if you are motivated enough. Case in point: I have awesome negroni-mixing skills.

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Meditative drawing

Posted on Oct 18, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

2013 10 17 One Sketch a Day

I really just wanted to sketch this cool ring I bought in Worms, Germany last winter, when I visited an old friend in that medieval city of Luther-fame. We stumbled upon a craft fair/party in one of those deep courtyards you find in old cities. There was a bar among the sellers’ booths, and a sausage grill in the courtyard, it was about -5˚C with dry crunchy snow, but people were drinking, eating, smoking outside, and looking at the wares. I picked out this medieval/punk-looking ring. The young silversmith said she makes her jewellery by melting down old coins. The sides of the three large black pyramids are enamel. The ring almost looks menacing. I like clunky, funky, not-so-delicate rings. They work well on my broad hands and fingers.

But when I held the ring to draw it, I ended up drawing my whole hand with its fingerless glove. (The gloves are a set my mother knitted for me so I can keep my hands and wrists warm when working on the computer in the cold season.) I got obsessed with drawing the knit texture more than anything else. I stopped it after a while, realizing it would take me an hour to draw the whole glove — drawing the knitting was almost as tedious and time-consuming as knitting itself. But obsession is not the right word; I was enjoying the meditative aspect of drawing each piece of thread. And my mother gets that meditative joy out of the actual knitting: she can knit a pair of socks in an evening while watching TV, she finds it relaxing and her fingers do it automatically.

I never even got close to the zen stage of knitting. I struggled with it in elementary school, found it boring, my fingers too clumsy for it, so my mother secretly finished my third grade knitting class project, an orange sweater with a cable knit front for my teddy bear. I think she may have even unravelled the few sloppy rows I had managed, then started over. All even loops and expertly braided cables, it was a thing of beauty, and my teddy and I basked in it. If there was a Best Dressed Teddy Ever list, he would have made it. And I got an A that I did not deserve.

But in this case I was so relieved to have escaped the prison of knit that I didn’t even feel any guilt. I was also annoyed that the boys got to take woodworking and build cool stuff like bird houses and possibly even clunky medieval-looking jewellery, while the girls had to do needlework and crochet pot holders. I knew, without being able to put it into words, that my cheating was an illegal response to an illegal system, which made the cheating completely OK.

That was probably the last school year in Germany when boys and girls had to take these gender-separated classes. My parents smiled at my complaints, but in hindsight I was right. It was a no-brainer to me, and it seems like such a no-brainer now: the young silversmith grew up being able to choose knitting or enamelling or both.

But what are we accepting these days that we shouldn’t?

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T is for Tuesday. Or Tranny.

Posted on Oct 16, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

Dr. Sketchy Vancouver — Tranny Zukko 2

I was impressed with Tranny Zukko’s smouldering eye make-up. More is definitely more when you’re a tranny act.

This Tuesday’s Dr. Sketchy Vancouver session at Hot Art Wet City featured a boylesque performer, Tranny Zukko, this week. I was thrilled, since there aren’t many male burlesque dancers out there, and I have missed a couple of them at past Dr. Sketchy’s because I couldn’t make it.

Tranny Zukko was fierce, and his intermission dance was high energy and appropriately trashy. And he was very sweet in person when I asked him about upcoming performances with his burlesque troupe “The Dirty Vanities”. He said they will be performing at the W.I.S.E. Hall in early December, so I am sure he meant the Taboo Revue Burlesque Variety Show scheduled for Saturday December 7th at that venue.

I like to think of myself as a bit of a burlesque groupie, but it’s often more in spirit than in action. Having drawn him now, and having seen him dance and act, I will make an effort to attend Tranny Zukko’s next show. Whether he’s performing as a member of the Screaming Chicken Theatrical Society, or his own brandnew troupe The Dirty Vanities (can’t find a website), my expectations are high!

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Thanksgiving in Kelowna

Posted on Oct 15, 2013 in Kelowna | 0 comments

2013 10 12 One Sketch a Day

My sister drawing

We visited my parents in Kelowna over Thanksgiving weekend. Sunshine, warmth and beautiful fall colours made it easy to go for a walk in nearby Mission Creek Park and sketch. The mosquitos were giving it their last-ditch, all-out effort of the year, and the pine needles poked us. But we did our best to ignore the stings from below and above.

My sister joined me for drawing this time, she was working on a stained glass design for her house number. She wants to make a box, one side of which will be the stained glass, and put a solar-powered light inside the box, for the entrance to her rural driveway. And of course, she got drawn while she drew. My father later pointed out that she had sketched the wrong number. She was glad to have an attentive proof reader long before the design was committed to glass, but she probably would have spotted the error herself at some point. Can’t be sure though; she is pretty distracted by the bees, bats, and bears living on her and her husband’s property that they try to keep track of. Compared to those ongoing concerns, house numbers are clearly an urban nuisance that is easily ignored.

The square format book is a notebook I received as a promotional item from a stock photo agency. It has a small photo on almost every page and I am (more or less) doing a drawing a day until the notebook is filled, allowing myself to be inspired by each photo or the blank page. I like the different effect of the water colour on this very smooth, almost coated paper, compared to the moleskine.

If you want to see the other drawings so far, click on the square sketch and that will take you to Flickr, where I’m posting my daily drawings.

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Resorting to wiener dogs again

Posted on Oct 8, 2013 in Whistler | 0 comments

Wiener dog slide 1

Wiener dog slide 2

Wiener dog slide 3

Urban sketching is even inspiring my work.

This year I was asked to present at two conferences: one was a Pechakucha presentation on urban sketching at the BC Society of Landscape Architects AGM and Conference back in April, and over the weekend of October 5/6 I was asked to be on a panel about graphic design alongside two other Vancouver design studio principals at the Canadian Association of Communicators in Education (CACE) conference in Whistler.

The topic I chose for my presentation was “Client-designer communication”. I’ve been communicating with design clients for eons, and I am pretty sure I’ve seen it all. I can deal with anything from production schedule delays and out-of-scope requests all the way to excrement colliding with the air ventilation unit.

While I have a lot to say on the subject, I wanted to make it fun for my audience. So I had to inspire myself first. As an artist, I can trust my ability to look at things that I have seen many times before, as if I was seeing them for the first time. If I could incorporate some kind of drawing into my presentation, I knew that would get me excited and inspired about whatever I was going to discuss. So I made extensive use of a diagram that I drew of a wiener dog race this past summer. The wiener dog race became a metaphor for my topic. Because hey, aren’t we designers and our clients just like dogs and their owners? And even if we aren’t, I will make it so.

I think I amused my audience as well as gave them some good advice — a few of my slides are shown here. And since the accommodation was provided by the conference, I brought Jeff along for a weekend at Whistler. He claims he was born to be a trophy spouse, so I was glad to provide him with this rare opportunity to live out his destiny.

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Posted on Oct 3, 2013 in Vancouver | 0 comments

2013 10 03 One Sketch a Day

Our bedroom balcony this morning, on a beautiful fall day.

I’ve been fighting a cold all week and have been indoors for the last three days, inhaling camomile steam and drinking my home-made ginger-lemon-honey brew, sleeping, resting, working, and watching movies on Netflix with our temporary house guest and friend Catherine, who is also sick. It’s been actually kind of cosy being sick together. Even though she probably gave me this cold. She even admits to it, although one never knows where the germs come from.

But today is a sunny day, I did this drawing on our balcony, and Cath and I are going for a walk. Cold, be gone already!

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